Charlie Morton
Charlie Morton returns after nine rehab starts in the minor leagues.

Pirates right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton returns to the mound Thursday night at PNC Park, facing the San Francisco Giants almost one year to the day since his reconstructive elbow surgery.

Morton becomes the 10th different starting pitcher Pittsburgh has used, yet the Pirates still maintain the 5th-best rotation ERA and 8th-best FIP in the National League. The average-to-above-average numbers are a testament to unexpectedly solid contributions from Jeff Locke, Jeanmar Gomez and Francisco Liriano.

The arsenal of pitches Morton throws will be pretty much the same as you remember. Here is how he threw his pitches over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, per BrooksBaseball:

  1. Sinker – 91.7 miles per hour (57% of pitches)
  2. Curveball – 78.8 mph (18% of pitches)
  3. Fastball – 92.5 mph (9% of pitches)
  4. Changeup – 84.3 mph (7% of pitches)

Morton was previously working on a cutter but has scrapped it. Will Graves of the Associated Press asked Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, is there anything different about Morton?

“He’s got a kid,” Hurdle joked.

Cheeky. As for what Hurdle will be looking for from Morton, who has gotten up to 98 pitches in his rehab from Tommy John surgery:

  • Get past the fifth inning
  • Command and location of pitches
  • Mound presence and tempo

Once Morton makes his 2013 debut, his Major League future is unknown. Both Hurdle and Morton say they “don’t know” what his role will be going forward. Hurdle “will know more after watching him” and is hoping to see the Morton that posted a 3.80 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .711 OPS in the first half of 2011 with his then-new sinker and three-quarters arm slot.

With starters Burnett and Rodriguez on the disabled list, and James McDonald still on his rehab, Morton has the “first opportunity” to move on a spot on a starting rotation spot. However, Hurdle acknowledges he may not have the luxury to see more than one or two starts from Morton before making a decision.

“That will be the challenge,” Hurdle said. “This won’t be an opportunity for us to bring guys back and say, ‘Okay, you’ve got 3-4 starts. We hope you get better each time out.'”

Moves Made Today

The roster moves made the Pirates are detailed here. Let’s get up to speed on everything that has happened.

  • A.J. Burnett (right calf strain) was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 9, opening a 25-man roster spot for Morton.
  • Jose Contreras was released unconditionally, opening a 40-man roster spot for Morton.
  • Charlie Morton was activated.
  • Starling Marte was scratched after originally appearing in Thursday’s lineup. He is day-to-day with rib discomfort. Alex Presley will start in left field.
  • Outfield prospect Gregory Polanco was promoted to Double-A Altoona.
  • The team provided updates on their many injured players.

Mercer Starting Again

Jordy Mercer is starting at shortstop for the second night in a row. Since his recall on May 15 and including Thursday night, Mercer has started 10 of 27 games at shortstop, one game at second base and has appeared in 19 games. During that time, Mercer has posted a .292 average, is coming off a 3-for-5 performance Wednesday night and has played “solid defense” according to Hurdle.

“He’s finishing games,” Hurdle said. “How much more confidence can you show in a guy when he’s finishing games at shortstop?”

Offensive Comparison, 2013:

Mercer — .278/.296/.494 in 82 plate appearances
Barmes — .201/.235/.270 in 170 plate appearances

I asked Hurdle if we will see more of Mercer in the future.

“We’re not quitting anybody. We’re not putting anybody aside,” Hurdle said. “We know the impact that Barmes has been able to provide for us in the last year-plus defensively up the middle. We do think there are times when that bat will still play and help us out offensively.”

Still, Hurdle says Mercer’s “confidence level has never been higher. His game is as fresh and as solid as it’s ever been.”

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Morton’s stuff looked sharp. His command was poor though. His presence got better as the game went on. If he can locate, he’ll be a very nice addition. Barmes should be starting when Morton pitches.

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